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Saints’ Vilma Seeks Court Probe of Settlement Talks Leak

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, facing a full NFL season suspension for his alleged role in a scheme to reward players for hits that deliberately hurt opponents, asked a U.S. judge to find out who told the media about confidential litigation settlement talks.

Vilma, who sued the 32-team National Football League to overturn his punishment and is pursuing a defamation suit against the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, made the request today to U.S. District Judge Helen G. Berrigan in New Orleans.

ESPN, the Walt Disney Co.-owned all-sports cable TV channel, earlier today reported the league offered to cut Vilma’s punishment in half if he dropped his lawsuit against Goodell. The network attributed the information to people it didn’t identify.

“Vilma entered into settlement discussions with the NFL in good faith,” attorneys for the linebacker said. “Vilma is well aware of, and has absolutely complied with, his obligation to safeguard the existence and substance of all such discussions.”

Berrigan on July 26 heard testimony from Vilma, Saints acting Head Coach Joe Vitt and other players as well as argument from attorneys over whether the NFL abided by its collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union in determining Vilma’s culpability and punishment.

Bounty Money

Vilma, who was captain of the Saints defense, told the court he never paid or took bounty money for deliberately hurting another team’s player.

“Today’s report about a settlement offer by the league to Jonathan Vilma is completely inaccurate,” Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the New York-based NFL, said in an e-mailed statement. “No such settlement offer has been made.”

Aiello said the league will “continue to respect the court proceedings on this matter,” and declined to comment further.

The National Football League Players Association sued the NFL on behalf of one current New Orleans player and two former Saints who received shorter suspensions.

Sean Payton, the team’s head coach, has been suspended for the entire season. Ex-Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, the alleged architect of the bounty program who is now a member of the Saint Louis Rams organization, has been suspended indefinitely.

The case is Vilma v. Goodell, 12-cv-1283, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

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